Novak Djokovic had to dig deep at times against French qualifier Enzo Couacaud but rolled into the third round with a 6-1 6-7(5) 6-2 6-0 win on Thursday to continue his quest for a 10th Australian Open crown and a 22nd Grand Slam title.
The Serbian looked at his imperious best as he eased through the opening set but hit a roadblock in the 74-minute second when world number 191 Couacaud upped his pace and intensity to level up the contest in a tiebreak.
Fourth seed Djokovic changed his shirt and brought in the heavy artillery to whip through the final two sets, setting up a third-round date with Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov.
“Enzo deserves credit for the fight, he played some great tennis, especially in the second set, he deservedly pushed the match into the fourth set,” said Djokovic, who hit 63 winners over the contest on Rod Laver Arena.
“I managed to respond well in the third and especially in the fourth … and yes, let’s keep it going.”
Dimitrov has won only one of his 10 matches against Djokovic and, as the Serbian was quick to point out, has never met him at Melbourne Park, where the former world number one is unbeaten since 2018.
“I know him very well, we are friends, Balkan brothers. May the best player win,” said Djokovic.
Djokovic’s half of the draw opened for him earlier on Thursday when second seed Casper Ruud was knocked out. That followed Wednesday’s exit of top seed Rafa Nadal, who already holds 22 Grand Slam singles titles.
It could turn out that Djokovic’s left thigh, again heavily strapped against a hamstring niggle, will be the biggest obstacle to him landing yet another Australian Open title.
The 35-year-old took a medical timeout at 4-4 in the second set to have the strapping changed and later conceded that it had been troubling him.
“It’s not good at all, to be honest,” he told Eurosport. “I’ll take it day-to-day, it was better last match, the feeling, than tonight. That’s all I can say, it’s up to god and physio to help me.”
Couacaud also needed treatment when he turned his ankle nastily in the first set as he tried in vain to hold off a break of serve that gave his opponent a 3-1 lead.
The Mauritius-born 27-year-old continued to throw everything at Djokovic and played a brilliant second set, finally coming back from 3-0 down to take the tiebreak 7-5.
Djokovic was again warmly supported by the crowd, the acrimony of his deportation from Australia last year over his stance on vaccinations against COVID-19 apparently forgotten.
One fan attracted his ire in the fourth set, however, after repeatedly making noise while Djokovic was preparing to serve.
“He’s drunk out of his mind, he’s provoking, he’s not here to watch tennis, what are you going to do about it?” he asked the umpire.
Four men in fancy dress were subsequently escorted from the arena and Djokovic was soon crunching a howitzer of a crosscourt backhand winner to bring an end to the contest.
A ₹724 crore boost in union sports budget
In the year of the Asian Games and qualifications for the 2024 Paris Olympics, the union sports budget saw a significant jump in allocation on Wednesday. The sports ministry has been allocated ₹3397.32 crore for 2023-24 – an increase of 723.97 crore from the previous fiscal. The budget for the previous financial year was ₹3062.60 crore (revised: ₹2673.35cr).
The Asian Games, postponed last year due to Covid, are due to be held in Hangzhou, China from September 23-October 8. India’s elite athletes have also started preparing for various Olympic qualification events.
Also Read | Sai Praneeth, Kiran George in men’s singles second round in Thailand Open
The allocation for National Sports Federations (NSFs) and Sports Authority of India (SAI) have gone up. Assistance to NSFs has been increased to ₹325 crore from ₹280 crore in 2022-23.
SAI has been allocated ₹785.5 crore, an increase from last year’s revised budget of ₹749.43 crore. It was originally allocated ₹653 crore in the last financial year. SAI oversees the preparation of national teams, manages national camps, provides infrastructure and other facilities to athletes besides appointing coaches, including foreign experts.
A big chunk of the sports budget will go for government’s flagship programme, Khelo India. It gets ₹1,000 crore, an increase of ₹400 crore from the revised allocation of ₹600 crore set aside for it in the previous budget. Under the scheme, Khelo India Youth Games and Khelo India University Games are organised. It has become the platform for talent identification and nurturing through its various schemes. The budget for Khelo India has steadily risen since its inception in 2018.
A major allocation of ₹107.84 crore has been made for the National Sports University in Imphal. Set up in 2018, NSU is a first-of-its-kind institution which imparts studies in sports science and medicine, coaching, sports management and technology.
The National Centre of Sports Science and Research, under which financial assistance is given to medical colleges and Universities to develop centres of sports science and research, has been allocated ₹13 crore.
There has been a ₹10 crore dip in incentives to athletes, from ₹55 crore last year. To fight the doping menace, the National Anti Doping Agency has been allocated ₹21.73 crore. The National Dope Testing Laboratory in Delhi, whose accreditation was restored by the World Anti-Doping Agency in December, 2021, gets ₹19.50 crore. A National Anti-Doping Bill was passed last year to create a statutory body for regulating anti-doping activities in sports.
Sai Praneeth, Kiran George in men’s singles second round in Thailand Open
Indian shuttlers B Sai Praneeth and Kiran George advanced to the second round of the Thailand Open Super 300 badminton tournament with contrasting wins over their respective opponents on Wednesday.
Praneeth beat Mads Christophersen of Denmark 21-13 21-14 in a battle lasting 31 minutes. He faces Hyeok Jin Jeon of South Korea in second round.
George, on the other hand, staved off a tough challenge from Lee Chia Hao of Chinese Taipei before emerging 21-17 19-21 23-21 victorious. He is up against third seed Cheuk Yiu Lee of Hong Kong in the second round.
However, Sameer Verma, Priyanshu Rajawat and Mithun Manjunath lost their first round matches. While Verma suffered 14-21 16-21 defeat against sixth seeded Chinese Shi Feng Li, Rajawat lost to Kwang Hee Heo of South Korea 21-14 19-21 25-27 and Manjunath was beaten 18-21 12-21 by fifth seeded Kenta Nishimoto of Japan.
In women’s singles, Ashmita Chaliha beat compatriot Anupama Upadhyaya 21-16 21-19 to reach the second round where she will face sixth seed Line Hojmark Kjaersfeldt of Denmark.
The pair of Simran Singhi and Ritika Thaker lost to sixth seeded Sheng Shu and Shu Xian Zhang of China 8-21 10-21 in the women’s doubles.
In mixed doubles, Rohan Kapoor and Sikki Reddy beat Canadian pair of Ty Alexander Lindeman and Josephine Wu 21-11 21-16 to enter the second round. But the pair of B Sumeeth Reddy and Ashwini Ponnappa lost to fourth seeded Indonesian pair of Rehan Naufal Kusharjanto and Lisa Ayu Kusumawati 11-21 17-21.
Djokovic played Australian Open with 3cm tear in hamstring, says Tiley | Tennis News
Novak Djokovic played with a three-centimetre (1.2 inches) tear in his hamstring during his run to a record-extending 10th Australian Open title, tournament director Craig Tiley said on Wednesday.
The Serbian, who suffered the hamstring injury en route to winning the warm-up title in Adelaide, won the season-opening major after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final for a men’s record 22nd Grand Slam title, matching Rafa Nadal’s haul.
“This guy I did see, he had a three-centimetre tear in his hammy,” Tiley told SEN Sportsday. “Absolutely (I saw the scans), the doctors are going to tell you the truth.
“There was a lot of speculation about whether it was true or not, it’s hard to believe that they can do what they do with those kinds of injuries.
“He’s remarkable, to deal with it extremely professionally.”
Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic said after the final that the world number one battled the injury, which would have forced most players to quit.
“He’s so focused on everything he does, with every single minute of the day,” Tiley added. “That’s what he eats, what he drinks, when he does it, how he does it.
“There’s no breakdown or mental breakdown in anything that he does. He’s been through a lot and to win 10 Australian Opens, I don’t think that’s ever going to be repeated… He’ll hold a significant place in the history of the Australian Open.”
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